Fowl
Overview
Fowl is a word for bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s in general but usually refers to birds belonging to one of two biological orders
Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

, namely the gamefowl or landfowl (Galliformes
Galliformes
Galliformes are an order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding domestic or game bird, containing turkey, grouse, chicken, New and Old World Quail, ptarmigan, partridge, pheasant, and the Cracidae. Common names are gamefowl or gamebirds, landfowl, gallinaceous birds or galliforms...

) and the waterfowl (Anseriformes
Anseriformes
The order Anseriformes contains about 150 living species of birds in three extant families: the Anhimidae , Anseranatidae , and the Anatidae, which includes over 140 species of waterfowl, among them the ducks, geese, and swans.All species in the order are highly adapted for an aquatic existence at...

). Studies of anatomical and molecular similarities suggest these two groups are close evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

ary relatives; together, they form the fowl clade
Clade
A clade is a group consisting of a species and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single "branch" on the "tree of life". The idea that such a "natural group" of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological...

 which is scientifically known as Galloanserae (initially termed Galloanseri). This clade is also supported by morphological and DNA sequence
DNA sequence
The sequence or primary structure of a nucleic acid is the composition of atoms that make up the nucleic acid and the chemical bonds that bond those atoms. Because nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, are unbranched polymers, this specification is equivalent to specifying the sequence of...

 data as well as retrotransposon
Retrotransposon
Retrotransposons are genetic elements that can amplify themselves in a genome and are ubiquitous components of the DNA of many eukaryotic organisms. They are a subclass of transposon. They are particularly abundant in plants, where they are often a principal component of nuclear DNA...

 presence/absence data
Retrotransposon Marker
Retrotransposon markers are retrotransposons that are used as cladistic markers.The analysis of SINEs – Short INterspersed Elements – LINEs – Long INterspersed Elements – or truncated LTRs – Long Terminal Repeats – as molecular cladistic markers represents a particularly interesting complement to...

.
As opposed to "fowl", "poultry
Poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

" is a term for any kind of domesticated bird or bird captive-raised for meat or eggs; ostrich
Ostrich
The Ostrich is one or two species of large flightless birds native to Africa, the only living member of the genus Struthio. Some analyses indicate that the Somali Ostrich may be better considered a full species apart from the Common Ostrich, but most taxonomists consider it to be a...

es, for example, are sometimes kept as poultry, but are neither gamefowl nor waterfowl.
Encyclopedia
Fowl is a word for bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s in general but usually refers to birds belonging to one of two biological orders
Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

, namely the gamefowl or landfowl (Galliformes
Galliformes
Galliformes are an order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding domestic or game bird, containing turkey, grouse, chicken, New and Old World Quail, ptarmigan, partridge, pheasant, and the Cracidae. Common names are gamefowl or gamebirds, landfowl, gallinaceous birds or galliforms...

) and the waterfowl (Anseriformes
Anseriformes
The order Anseriformes contains about 150 living species of birds in three extant families: the Anhimidae , Anseranatidae , and the Anatidae, which includes over 140 species of waterfowl, among them the ducks, geese, and swans.All species in the order are highly adapted for an aquatic existence at...

). Studies of anatomical and molecular similarities suggest these two groups are close evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

ary relatives; together, they form the fowl clade
Clade
A clade is a group consisting of a species and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single "branch" on the "tree of life". The idea that such a "natural group" of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological...

 which is scientifically known as Galloanserae (initially termed Galloanseri). This clade is also supported by morphological and DNA sequence
DNA sequence
The sequence or primary structure of a nucleic acid is the composition of atoms that make up the nucleic acid and the chemical bonds that bond those atoms. Because nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, are unbranched polymers, this specification is equivalent to specifying the sequence of...

 data as well as retrotransposon
Retrotransposon
Retrotransposons are genetic elements that can amplify themselves in a genome and are ubiquitous components of the DNA of many eukaryotic organisms. They are a subclass of transposon. They are particularly abundant in plants, where they are often a principal component of nuclear DNA...

 presence/absence data
Retrotransposon Marker
Retrotransposon markers are retrotransposons that are used as cladistic markers.The analysis of SINEs – Short INterspersed Elements – LINEs – Long INterspersed Elements – or truncated LTRs – Long Terminal Repeats – as molecular cladistic markers represents a particularly interesting complement to...

.

Terminology

As opposed to "fowl", "poultry
Poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

" is a term for any kind of domesticated bird or bird captive-raised for meat or eggs; ostrich
Ostrich
The Ostrich is one or two species of large flightless birds native to Africa, the only living member of the genus Struthio. Some analyses indicate that the Somali Ostrich may be better considered a full species apart from the Common Ostrich, but most taxonomists consider it to be a...

es, for example, are sometimes kept as poultry, but are neither gamefowl nor waterfowl. In colloquial speech, however, the term "fowl" is often used near-synonymously with "poultry" or even "bird", and many languages do not distinguish between "poultry" and "fowl". Nonetheless, the fact that Galliformes and Anseriformes most likely form a monophyletic group makes a distinction between "fowl" and "poultry" warranted.

The historic difference is due to the Germanic/Latin split word pairs characteristic of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

; the word 'fowl' is of Germanic origin (cf. Old English "Fugol", German Vogel, Danish Fugl), whilst poultry is of Latin via Norman French origin.

Many birds that are eaten by humans are fowl, including poultry
Poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

 such as chicken
Chicken
The chicken is a domesticated fowl, a subspecies of the Red Junglefowl. As one of the most common and widespread domestic animals, and with a population of more than 24 billion in 2003, there are more chickens in the world than any other species of bird...

s or turkey
Turkey (bird)
A turkey is a large bird in the genus Meleagris. One species, Meleagris gallopavo, commonly known as the Wild Turkey, is native to the forests of North America. The domestic turkey is a descendant of this species...

s, game birds such as pheasant
Pheasant
Pheasants refer to some members of the Phasianinae subfamily of Phasianidae in the order Galliformes.Pheasants are characterised by strong sexual dimorphism, males being highly ornate with bright colours and adornments such as wattles and long tails. Males are usually larger than females and have...

s or partridge
Partridge
Partridges are birds in the pheasant family, Phasianidae. They are a non-migratory Old World group.These are medium-sized birds, intermediate between the larger pheasants and the smaller quails. Partridges are native to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East...

s, other wildfowl like guineafowl
Guineafowl
The guineafowl are a family of birds in the Galliformes order, although some authorities include the guineafowl as a subfamily, Numidinae, of the family Phasianidae...

 or peafowl
Peafowl
Peafowl are two Asiatic species of flying birds in the genus Pavo of the pheasant family, Phasianidae, best known for the male's extravagant eye-spotted tail, which it displays as part of courtship. The male is called a peacock, the female a peahen, and the offspring peachicks. The adult female...

, and waterfowl
Waterfowl
Waterfowl are certain wildfowl of the order Anseriformes, especially members of the family Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese, and swans....

 such as duck
Duck
Duck is the common name for a large number of species in the Anatidae family of birds, which also includes swans and geese. The ducks are divided among several subfamilies in the Anatidae family; they do not represent a monophyletic group but a form taxon, since swans and geese are not considered...

s or geese.

Characteristics

While they are quite diverse ecologically and consequently, in an adaptation to their different lifestyles, also morphologically
Morphology (biology)
In biology, morphology is a branch of bioscience dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features....

 and ethologically, there are still some features which unite water- and landfowl. Many of these, however, are plesiomorphic for Neornithes as a whole, and are also shared with paleognaths.
  • Galloanserae are very prolific; they regularly produce clutch
    Clutch (eggs)
    A clutch of eggs refers to all the eggs produced by birds or reptiles, often at a single time, particularly those laid in a nest.In birds, destruction of a clutch by predators, , results in double-clutching...

    es of more than 5 or even more than 10 eggs, which is a lot for such sizeable birds. For example birds of prey and pigeons rarely lay more than two eggs.
  • While most living birds are monogamous, at least for a breeding season, many Galloanserae are notoriously polygynous or polygamous. To ornithologists, this is particularly well known in dabbling ducks, where the males literally band together occasionally to "gang rape" unwilling females. The general public is probably most familiar with the polygynous habits of domestic chicken, where usually one or two rooster
    Rooster
    A rooster, also known as a cockerel, cock or chanticleer, is a male chicken with the female being called a hen. Immature male chickens of less than a year's age are called cockerels...

    s are kept with a whole flock of females.
  • Hybridization is extremely frequent in Galloanserae, and genera
    Genera
    Genera is a commercial operating system and development environment for Lisp machines developed by Symbolics. It is essentially a fork of an earlier operating system originating on the MIT AI Lab's Lisp machines which Symbolics had used in common with LMI and Texas Instruments...

    , not usually known to produce viable hybrids in birds, can be brought to interbreed with comparative ease. Guineafowl
    Guineafowl
    The guineafowl are a family of birds in the Galliformes order, although some authorities include the guineafowl as a subfamily, Numidinae, of the family Phasianidae...

     have successfully produced hybrids with domestic fowl and Blue Peafowl, to which they are not particularly closely related as Galliformes
    Galliformes
    Galliformes are an order of heavy-bodied ground-feeding domestic or game bird, containing turkey, grouse, chicken, New and Old World Quail, ptarmigan, partridge, pheasant, and the Cracidae. Common names are gamefowl or gamebirds, landfowl, gallinaceous birds or galliforms...

     go. This is an important factor complicating mtDNA sequence
    DNA sequence
    The sequence or primary structure of a nucleic acid is the composition of atoms that make up the nucleic acid and the chemical bonds that bond those atoms. Because nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, are unbranched polymers, this specification is equivalent to specifying the sequence of...

    -based research on their relationships. The Mallard
    Mallard
    The Mallard , or Wild Duck , is a dabbling duck which breeds throughout the temperate and subtropical Americas, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and has been introduced to New Zealand and Australia....

    s of North America
    North America
    North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

    , for example, are apparently mostly derived from some males which arrived from Siberia
    Siberia
    Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

    , settled down, and mated with American Black Duck
    American Black Duck
    The American Black Duck is a large dabbling duck. American Black Ducks are similar to Mallards in size, and resemble the female Mallard in coloration, although the Black Duck's plumage is darker...

     ancestors. See also Gamebird hybrids
    Gamebird hybrids
    Gamebird hybrids are the result of crossing species of game birds, including ducks, with each other and with domestic poultry. These hybrid species may occur both naturally or though the intervention of man....

    .
  • Galloanserae young are remarkably precocious. Anseriform young are able to swim and dive a few hours after hatching, and the hatchlings of mound-builders are fully feathered and even able to fly for prolonged distances as soon as they emerge from the nest mound.

Systematics and evolution

Fowl were the first neognath lineage to evolve and survive to our day. From the limited fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

s that have to date been recovered, the conclusion that they were already widespread—the predominant group of modern birds—by end of the Cretaceous
Cretaceous
The Cretaceous , derived from the Latin "creta" , usually abbreviated K for its German translation Kreide , is a geologic period and system from circa to million years ago. In the geologic timescale, the Cretaceous follows the Jurassic period and is followed by the Paleogene period of the...

 is generally accepted nowadays. Fossils such as Vegavis
Vegavis
Vegavis is a genus of extinct bird that lived during the Late Cretaceous of Antarctica, some 65 mya. It belonged to the clade Anseriformes...

indicate that essentially modern waterfowl, albeit belonging to a nowadays extinct lineage, were contemporaries of the (non-avian) dinosaur
Dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s. As opposed to the morphologically
Morphology (biology)
In biology, morphology is a branch of bioscience dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features....

 fairly conservative Galliformes, the Anseriformes have adapted to filter-feeding and are characterized by a large number of autapomorphies related to this lifestyle. The extremely advanced feeding systems of the Anseriformes, together with similarities of the early anseriform Presbyornis
Presbyornis
Presbyornis is an extinct genus of anseriform bird. It contains two unequivocally accepted species; the well-known P. pervetus and the much lesser-known P. isoni. P. pervetus was approximately the size and shape of a goose, but with longer legs; P. isoni, known from a few bones, was much larger,...

to shorebirds, had formerly prompted some scientists to ally Anseriformes with Charadriiformes
Charadriiformes
Charadriiformes is a diverse order of small to medium-large birds. It includes about 350 species and has members in all parts of the world. Most Charadriiformes live near water and eat invertebrates or other small animals; however, some are pelagic , some occupy deserts and a few are found in thick...

 instead. However, as strong support for the Galloanserae has emerged in subsequent studies, the fowl clade continues to be accepted as a genuine evolutionary lineage by the vast majority of scientists.

Apart from the living members, the Gastornithidae are probably a prehistoric member of the Galloanserae.
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